Eating, Drinking, St. Patrick’s Day, and Consumption Laws

FB_IMG_13459295361487497St. Patrick’s Day passed as it does every March. Because it fell on a Sunday this year, bars such as Brian Boru in Portland were encouraging the state to pass an “emergency” law allowing them to open at 6am instead of the usual 9am that is currently allowed by state law on Sunday. Every other day of the week, liquor can be sold starting at 6am and ending at 1am. That means that Monday through Saturday liquor can be sold 6am to 1am and on Sunday 9am to 1am. It’s actually fairly simple. There aren’t a lot of other laws to go with that and if you live in Maine, you pretty much know the other ones – no drinking in public, no taking liquor out of a place where it’s meant to be consumed on premises, etc.

The issue with St. Patrick’s Day is of course that a decent number of people want to drink all day starting early and ending late or one or the other. I’ve personally never been that excited for St. Patrick’s Day and don’t usually make much effort to go out for it. I’m over 21 and I can pretty much drink alcohol whenever I want so it’s not critical for me to do it on that day, but certainly there are times that I want to go out and have some drinks. So while I don’t necessarily understand what’s so special about pretending you’re Irish one day of the year, I understand quite well wanting to go out and have a good time for any number of reasons.

As will happen every so often, St. Patty’s day fell on Sunday this year. Bars, especially Irish pubs, thinking they could earn more money by opening earlier, asked that the state make an exception and allow them to open when they would have been able to if  it had been any other day of the week. The state, despite having plenty of other pressing issues on their plate, agreed. It should be noted that years ago the law required no alcohol sales prior to noon on Sunday.

I believe the state did the right thing in this case. But the issue brings up many questions about what the state could do better in regards to the restaurant/bar industry and alcohol regulation. St. Patrick’s Day isn’t the biggest drinking day of the year – that designation is reserved for the day before Thanksgiving – but it’s probably second or third. And with significant demand, bars were allowed to open bright and early which earned them and the state some revenue they otherwise would have missed out on. Certainly, with the economy as weak as it is, this is a good thing. But even in more prosperous times, would it be that bad? Of course not.

This all begs the following question: If bars are allowed to open at 6am on a Sunday when the demand is high for their products, why wouldn’t they also be allowed to open when the demand is lower if they still felt they could make money? The answer, as far as I can tell, is that there isn’t any reason at all. I would suggest that it’s a leftover law that, while softened, still is outdated and without purpose.

Taking this issue further, it should be noted that Maine, while having a massive tourism industry relative to its size and incredible restaurant scene has some of the stricter alcohol laws in the country. None is more noticeable than the early end to sales at 1am. The reasons that I’ve heard for this are primary law enforcement related. But I question if these concerns are rooted in reality. While I haven’t done any hard scientific research on this issue, I have experienced nightlife in other areas of the country and world with different laws.

In my extensive experience going to bars in Portland later at night – primarily when I was younger – there were indeed fights, which I believe is one of the primary law enforcement concerns. They occurred later at night, usually after the bars closed and in the area of establishments serving food to intoxicated patrons. I have a suspicion that not much has changed since those days.

One place that provides an interesting comparison to Portland is New York City. While NYC is well over 100 times the size of Portland, it also allows serving of alcohol until 4am.  In my experience there and from the experience of friends who lived there, there are rarely fights or other crimes that occur from people leaving bars, even very late at night. Why is that? Presumably, people still drink like they do in Maine and they’ve certainly got plenty of time to do it.  However, they have more time to leave the venue on their own and go their own way. If they do get into a fight or cause some sort of problem, what’s the difference whether it occurs at 1am or 4am? What happens if you don’t limit the hours establishments can serve at all like in Nevada? Certainly there is alcohol related crime just like anywhere else, but at least everyone isn’t leaving together to cause trouble en masse.

There’s no doubt that people are more likely to commit crimes when drunk, but are they more likely to be drunken criminals at 2 or 3am than at 1am? Partiers will start drinking later and it won’t be any different than it is now. If they have to go home at 1am as determined by current law, they start early or drink faster. I know because I have done it. If people aren’t rushed, they won’t have to do that and can enjoy themselves at a leisurely pace.

Of further importance to this issue is that restaurants could be open later, allowing more people to be served and more revenue to be earned. This would likely be a significant assist to restaurants and the economy in general. A change in the laws would likely take six months to a year for residents to get used to, but tourists, often coming from areas where they can stay out later, would spend more money. Many restaurants here make their latest reservations around 9pm. In other areas of the country, people aren’t even getting ready to go out yet at 9.

So why doesn’t Maine allow establishments serving liquor to make their own choices regarding hours of operation? No place would ever be forced to stay open. They would make their hours of operation based on whether or not they thought they could make money. Can someplace make money 24 hours per day? If so, why would the state stop that? The truth is that a 24 hour bar/restaurant is pretty unlikely to succeed in Portland, but why stop it if it if it could?

It’s unlikely that looser serving laws will have a negative impact on criminal behavior, especially violent criminal behavior, other than to possibly change the time at which it occurs. People get drunk now if they want and they commit crimes if they want and that won’t change. What will change are attitudes and revenue. The “I’ve got to hurry up and get drunk” attitude will be gone. The forcing of all drunken individuals onto the streets at the same time will be gone. Revenue will be increased and citizens will be able to decide when they want to go out. It’s time for the state should consider loosening or removing serving time restrictions for bars and restaurants and get more in line with states that have done the same. This will be great for tourism, the state, and citizens who want to enjoy a later night out. There are already a number of great reasons to visit this great state. Let’s add a night life to the list.

Stay hungry.

Feel free to email me at peterpeterportlandeater@yahoo.com with any thoughts, suggestions, criticisms, or otherwise helpful info or feel free to post your thoughts below.

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